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Avoiding plagiarism, self-plagiarism, and other questionable writing practices: A guide to ethical writing

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Redundant and Duplicate (i.e., dual) Publications

Guideline 10: Authors who submit a manuscript for publication containing data, reviews, conclusions, etc., that have already been disseminated in some significant manner (e.g., published as an article in another journal, presented at a conference, posted on the internet) must clearly indicate to the editors and readers the nature of the previous dissemination.

A large proportion of scientific and scholarly research is carried out by college and university professors. For these academics, the presentation and subsequent publication of research in peer-reviewed scholarly and scientific journals represents one of the most important criteria for gaining tenure and/or promotion. Consequently, the more publications authored by an academic, the better his/her chances of getting a promotion or tenure. The current academic reward system is thought to produce a tremendous amount of pressure to generate as many publications as possible. Unfortunately, some of the most serious negative outcomes of the present system are the problems of duplicate publication and of redundant publication. In the sciences, duplicate publication generally refers to the practice of submitting a paper with the same data to more than one journal, without alerting the editors or readers to the existence of other identical published versions. The new publication may differ only slightly from the original by, for example, changes to the title, abstract, and/or order of the authors. Papers representing instances of duplicate publication almost always contain identical or nearly identical text relative to the earlier published version. The related and more frequent practice known as redundant publication occurs when researchers publish the same data, with a somewhat different textual slant within the body of the paper. For example, redundant papers may contain a slightly different interpretation of the data or the introduction to the paper may be described in a somewhat different theoretical or empirical context. Sometimes, additional data or somewhat different analyses of the same, previously published data are reported in the redundant paper. The fact of the matter is that each of these types of practices is frowned upon by most scientific journals (see Kassirer & Angell, 1995) and most of the major scientific writing guides caution against them (e.g., Iverson, et al., 1998).

While the accepted practice for authors of manuscripts that are intended to be published as trade books is to send their manuscript to several publishers, the standard practice for authors of scientific or scholarly papers is to submit their paper for publication to a single journal. An author may submit the same paper or a revised version of it to another journal once it is determined that the first journal will not publish it. Only under exceptional circumstances would it be acceptable for a paper published in one journal to appear in another journal. In spite of these universally accepted practices, redundant publication[1] continues to be a problem in the biomedical sciences. For example, in a recent editorial, Schein (2001) describes the results of a study he and a colleague carried out in which the authors found that 92 out of 660 studies taken from 3 major surgical journals were actual cases of redundant publication. While some authors have estimated that between 10% to 20% of the biomedical literature is laden with redundant publications (Jefferson, 1998), a recent review of the literature suggests the more conservative figure of approximately 10% (Steneck, 2000). The current situation has become so serious, however, that many biomedical journals have begun to publish policies clarifying their opposition to multiple submissions of the same paper. Some journals now request that authors who submit a manuscript for review must also submit previously published papers or those that are currently under review that are related to the topic of the manuscript under consideration. This requirement has been implemented to allow editors to determine whether the extent of overlap between such papers warrants the publication of yet another paper. If, in the opinion of the editor, the extent of overlap were substantial, the paper would likely not be published.

Instances in which dual publication may be acceptable

Some authors who submit the same article to more than one journal do so with the rationale that their paper would be of interest to each set of readers who would probably not otherwise be aware of the other publication. Indeed, circumstances have been identified which would justify the dual publication of a paper. However, the editors of both journals would have to agree to this arrangement and the existence of each version of the published paper would have to be made clear to each set of readers. Blancett, Flanagin, & Young (1995; cited in Iverson, et al., 1998) provide a number of scenarios where dual publication may be acceptable (see also the International Committee of Medial Journal Editors’ Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals, 1999). For example, summaries or abstracts of papers that are published in conference proceedings are often subsequently published in expanded form as a journal article. Another situation where redundant publication may be acceptable occurs when an article published in one language is translated into a different language and published in a different journal. In these and other cases where redundant publication is being considered by the author, the editors and the readers of each paper must be made aware that a second published version exists.

Why redundant publication must be avoided

Journal space is notoriously competitive in scholarly and scientific publishing, thus a paper that appears in two different journals unbeknownst to readers and editors robs other authors the opportunity to publish their worthwhile work. Moreover, referees often volunteer their valuable time to review authors’ work in the service of science and scholarship. Duplicate or redundant publications waste the time and limited resources of the editorial and peer review system. More importantly and particularly in the sciences, is the fact that dual/redundant publications mislead researchers as to the true nature of a given database. For example, an author who wishes to study the significance of an experimental effect or phenomenon using sophisticated statistical techniques, such as meta-analysis, will arrive at erroneous results and conclusions if the same experiment were to be counted twice. Consider the following anecdote reported by Wheeler (1989):

“In one such instance, a description of a serious adverse pulmonary effect associated with a new drug used to treat cardiovascular patients was published twice, five months apart in different journals. Although the authors were different, they wrote from the same medical school about patients that appear identical. Any researcher counting the incidence of complications associated with this drug from the published literature could easily be misled into concluding that the incidence is higher than it really is.” (p.1).

It should be clear to the reader that redundant and duplicate publication must be avoided, for it has the potential for distorting the existing data base, possibly resulting in the establishment of flawed public health policies.

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